Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Oh So Heavenly Cupcakes

I haven't been baking much lately because we've been traveling! We just spent a lovely week in Florida and tasted lots of wonderful food including these cupcakes. Heavenly Cupcakes in Sarasota/Siesta Key immediately caught my eye when we went past and I knew I had to check it out. The first evening we tried these two cupcakes and went back for more the next day because they were so heavenly. The cake had a great flavor, texture and was nice and moist. And the butter cream frosting was to die for! The cupcakes were not just referred to as chocolate and vanilla, but they had fun names. We had a Moma's Most Delicious and Peanut Butter in Paradise (Sean's favorite). Since they were out of the ones I really wanted to try, we had to return to test those too.
Here is a photo of Audrey and I at the cupcake shop on Siesta Key. Wickedly good cupcakes - so true!

Audrey looked so happy in that photo as she had just devoured her yummy chocolate cupcake! That's the one that is missing from the cupcake box we brought back to our room. I got the Cuckoo for Coconut cupcake to try later and it was so that I got a t-shirt that confessed my love for this cupcake.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Irish Soda Bread

I had never really heard of Irish soda bread until I became acquainted with the McLafferty family. Sean's mom always made it for St. Patrick's Day and passed her recipe onto me a few years ago. I started making it each St. Patrick's Day along with our corned beef dinner. We did confirm that corned beef dinner is not necessarily a traditional meal in Ireland for St. Patrick's Day (or any other day for that matter). They usually have a sort of boiled dinner with ham and vegetables. However, we love corned beef (and especially love the reuben sandwiches that follow) so we make it each year. I reviewed several different recipes for soda bread and tried a different one this year which has the same ingredients, but different measurements. The key ingredients are baking soda (given the name) which provides the leavening for the bread along with baking powder and raisins. I always use Sunmaid baking raisins, which I also use for my scones. Most soda bread recipes also call for including carraway seeds, but I really don't like the taste of them so I choose to leave them out.

Here is my dough that I've kneaded and formed into a round. I usually bake it on a baking stone that I grease with butter.

I melted butter to brush on top of the bread and score it with an X that allows it a natural place to crack when it bakes and also makes it easy to cut after baking.

This was how much had been eaten before we even sat down for our corned beef dinner. It was a hit, especially with Audrey. This morning, we enjoyed some leftover bread with strawberry jam.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Irish Coffee Cupcakes

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I wanted to make a fun dessert to adorn with my cute marzipan shamrocks and found this interesting Irish coffee cupcake recipe to try. My sister and I both get Martha Stewart Living and often try the different recipes and she brought this to my attention. I love coffee, love Irish cream and love cupcakes, so what's not to love with these?

Here are the secret ingredients. Bailey's Irish cream and instant espresso powder turn ordinary cupcakes into Irish coffee cupcakes!

While I had the espresso powder out and the water boiling, my mum and I decided to enjoy an espresso while I tried this recipe. It sure kept me alert through the rest of the day to stay up and decorate them!

I was excited to use my new curly Q baking cups from Bake It Pretty!

Here is the espresso infused cupcake batter. It looks like coffee, right? It sure tasted like coffee!

Here is the coffee batter in the cups and the nicely baked cupcakes just out of the oven.

Now we let them cool and waited a while to frost and decorate them.

The frosting was a simple whipped cream frosting made with heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar with a hint of Bailey's Irish cream. It has such a nice flavour!

I experimented with decorations and even tried to turn my Irish coffee cupcake into a mug with the addition of a partial fudge pretzel.

Some were topped with my marzipan shamrocks and others were dusted with espresso powder. They were not my favourite tasting cupcakes, but were perfect for the occasion and fun to make.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My First Attempt at Marzipan

Can you believe that you can start with almonds and sugar and end up with a creation like this? That's what I love about baking and pastry. You can use such simple ingredients and precisely mixed together with a bit of creativity, you can do amazing things that just happen to taste wonderful as well. All my family knows that I LOVE marzipan. Whether it's plain, sugar covered, fruit shaped, draped in chocolate or topping a cake, I have always liked the texture and lovely almond flavour of marzipan. In fact, I can't recall a Christmas when I haven't received marzipan in some form. However, I have never attempted making it myself and now was the time. It was fun and sure was an experience, but it was no easy feat.
Here are the ingredients I started with: blanched almonds, granulated sugar and powdered sugar. I used a full pound of each that I weighed on my kitchen scale. The glittery granulated sugar was so pretty with the bare blanched almonds and I was so excited to be trying to turn this into a smooth paste.

The first step was to grid the almonds and sugar together in the food processor. It was ground finely and I was able to clump it together, but it was no paste. The recipe in my Marzipan book indicated to slowly add powdered sugar and knead it into a smooth paste. Easy, right? No.... After a LONG time of kneading, I needed a break! I reviewed other marzipan recipes online (the ones that do not require cooking it) and realized that I should probably add in some egg whites. So, that is what I did and I also turned to my trusty Kitchenaid mixer to help me do some kneading.

After adding the egg whites and using the mixer, it was FINALLY coming together - yes! I created several small balls of marzipan at this point so it was easier to work with. I continued to knead it at this point, and put it on some plastic wrap to keep it moist and help it to stay together.

After all the kneading, came the fun part - colouring it! I used my new gel paste food coloring and used green since it's just before St. Patrick's day and I'm out to make marzipan shamrocks.

I added several drops, but wanted a brighter green, so we added more color. This was a happy process though now that we have our marzipan paste!

Then, I rolled out the colored marzipan to the thickness I wanted and was ready to create shamrocks. But, I don't have a little shamrock cookie cutter. I tried to freehand the shamrocks, but they just didn't look good. So, I used a maple leaf cookie cutter and used a toothpick to push it out and keep it intact. Then, I cut off a few edges of the leaf shape and formed them into cute little shamrocks.

Yeah - I did it! Not only was I able to create the paste and make something out of it, it tasted wonderful. I wrapped all the other marzipan in plastic wrap and foil and I'm attempting to freeze to see if I can thaw it later to use for more decorations. Get ready to top cupcakes you cute little shamrocks!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Shepherd's Pie

While I have been focusing on my pastry projects, this is still baking, but more on the savoury side. I grew up with shepherd's pie being a fairly regular dinner choice, but have never made it myself. It's a great winter meal and it's so great to have your dinner all contained in one dish complete with your protein, vegetables and topped with dreamy whipped carbs. I reviewed several different recipes and conferred with my mum who is visiting to decide how I wanted to make it. I chose to use ground beef this first time around as my daughter would be more likely to eat it, but I'd like to try using lamb or ground turkey next time. I made a nice sauce to mix in with the beef that consisted of beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and some flour to thicken it. I mixed the beef mixture with fresh carrots and frozen peas. Another time I might include corn or maybe even some sauteed mushrooms. For the potato topping, I used yukon gold potatoes that I boiled and mashed, then mixed with some white cheddar, cream and some chives that I had frozen from our herb garden. Next time, I'd like to try mixing the regular potato in with some mashed turnips. Finally, I topped it with more white cheddar that melted nicely on top when it baked. It was a great comfort food meal!

Sunday, March 14, 2010


When I went to school in England, we had several trips to France for field trips to complement our studies. One of my courses was art history and we were lucky enough to have a field trip to Paris visit the Louvre and Musee D'Orsay and see all the beautiful paintings we were studying. One of my favourite things about walking around Paris were all the crepe stands. I remember one time in particular when my friends and I were on our way to take a boat ride on the River Seine and stopped at one of the crepe huts. I ordered a Nutella and banana crepe and it is one of my favourite combinations to this day. Crepes have become quite popular in the U.S. as well and many restaurants focusing on crepes have opened (Creperies). This nice light pancake is not only good with sweet fillings, but great on its own or with savoury fillings for lunch or dinner. I love them filled with melted cheese and sauteed mushrooms. Many pancake house chains serve them, but they tend to be made too thick (more like a traditional pancake) and often have too much cream cheese type fillings. I think they call them blintzes. You can usually ask for them plain, but you might as well leave them to what they do best - traditional pancakes - and make the real crepes at home.
It's a nice creamy batter and it is best to let it rest after you mix it for the flour to absorb as much moisture as possible. I usually make it the night before, leave it in the refrigerator overnight in a bowl wrapped in plastic and then make them for breakfast the next morning.

You don't need one, but I have a special crepe pan that is non-stick and has low edges and works perfectly to make a 6 inch crepe. Most recipes tell you to measure out a 1/4 or 1/3 cup of batter, but I find it easiest to use a ladle and pour it in the pan and then move the pan around to spread the batter for a nice thin crepe. They cook very quickly and turn easier (much easier than our traditional cakey pancakes).

Now for preparing them to eat.... I usually never use maple syrup with these, but you could. My mum's favourite is to sprinkle them with powdered sugar and have a some fresh squeezed lemon on them. My favourite is much more rich, but I love a light spreading of Nutella on the inside with sliced fresh banana. Bon Appetit! Next, I want to try to make a yummy dessert made of crepes.

Peanut Butter Cookies, Take Two

I had a few occassions this past week that called for bringing along a hostess gift and had a few extra jars of peanut butter in the pantry, so I decided to try my peanut butter cookie recipe this time around. I used real butter (the only way to go) and the consistency of the dough was much better. I also had used crunchy peanut butter the first go around and much prefer using creamy peanut butter for a smooth texture to the cookie.

I love using a small ice cream scoop to drop the cookies, then I rolled them all out before doing the criss-cross pattern with the fork. I tried some rolled in sugar and some without and we voted for going without in the future. The sugar makes them glisten and adds a bit of a crunch, but without they are nice and simple and seem to stay a bit chewier on the inside.

Using the small ice cream scoop or cookie scoop is not only easier, but helps you to get nice uniform sized cookies. They don't always need to be perfect, but it helps for packaging them. We tested just a few and the rest were packaged to take to my friends that I was visiting for playdates. I love using different boxes like this and place individual sheets of parchment between the cookies. If I don't have these boxes, I stack the cookies in a cellophane bag and secure it with a tie or pretty ribbon.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I think I had first heard of beignets when I lived in Chicago and tried them at this restaurant downtown that would make them to order for dessert. We didn't make it out for lunch often, but when we did there were plenty of great restaurants to choose from and I remember sharing a plate of fresh hot beignets with my colleagues. I wanted to try to make these myself, but did a little research first to see what the fuss was about. Beignet, pronounced "ban-yay," is the french word for "fried dough" It's basically a fancy doughnut, but without a hole in it (which is much easier to make too). However, while they have French orgins, they have gained popularity in the U.S. The famous Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans is known for them and they are actually the state doughnut of Louisiana.

I've come to realize on recent travels that doughnut desserts at high-end restaurants are quite popular now and people love them served hot....what comfort food! So, with the other packet of active dry yeast I had after making hot cross buns, I tackled this popular dessert this past weekend.

They are made with a yeast pastry, which was really only sweetened with a little sugar and some freshly ground nutmeg. With the use of yeast, this again requires patience and waiting. My before and after photos of the pastry don't look like a dramatic amount of rising happened, but it did rise a bit and was ready for kneading.

I kneaded the dough a little, rolled it out to the right thickness and cut out my rounds to place on a floured cookie sheet. I had to let it rise again and this time I could really tell they had risen and the rounds were touching each other. I think I'd use a larger cookie sheet next time as the dough was quite sticky and it wasn't so great that they were stuck together when I was ready to fry them. Now onto frying...

I'm not a huge fan for fried foods, but these are fried in Safflower oil and cooked quickly (just a minute or so per side) at a high temperature (approx. 350 degrees) so they cook but do not absorb a lot of oil. I used the candy thermometer and kept it in the pan the entire time so I could monitor the temperature of the oil. After frying, they went on a paper towel lined plate and were ready for the final touches.

I covered them in powdered sugar and created a huge mound of sugary beignets. I made sure to have family around to help clean up this tower of sugary doughnuts and they loved them. I think I could have even used a smaller round cookie cutter to make more smaller beignets, but we had no problem trying more than one. They are really good on their own or served with dipping sauces, like a chocolate sauce, raspberry or strawberry. We enjoyed them with some homemade triple chocolate ice cream that my brother made (yes, we're a family of cooks!).